ESPN produces more than 60,000 hours of programming each year — and the sports cabler has devised a few new ways to encourage viewers to gorge on more of that content than ever.
A new version of the ESPN App for Apple TV’s tvOS, available Wednesday, includes a feature called MultiCast that provides the ability to view up to four simultaneous live streams at once. On any given day, ESPN users can choose from 30 or more live events airing across its networks.
In addition, ESPN is releasing version 5.10 of its app for iOS and Android featuring a new “Watch” tab that lets users access live-streaming events and shows based on their favorite teams. The update also adds ESPN3 replays to the app’s existing on-demand highlights and long-form video.
“We want to take advantage of all the unique content we have, and make something only ESPN can do,” said Ryan Spoon, ESPN’s senior VP of digital product, design and audience development.
But how often do regular sports fans really want to watch multiple channels at once? ESPN expects the the feature to be popular during college football Saturdays, as well as for events like the College Football Playoff National Championship “megacast” the U.S. Open multicourt coverage. Spoon said ESPN is developing the MultiCast feature for other connected-TV devices but started with Apple TV first because “Apple TV has capabilities to do this that other platforms don’t have.”
The ultimate goal of ESPN, of course, is to not just drive up usage — but to keep subscribers paying for its service. That’s either through traditional pay TV or through the direct-to-consumer video service slated to debut in early 2018 through the ESPN Apps (although NFL and NBA games will not be on the internet-only service).
To that end, the updated ESPN App will include a free, 10-minute preview of a live event, available to non-authenticated users for free. At the end of the preview, fans will be asked to sign in using pay-TV credentials to keep watching.
The MultiView feature on the ESPN App for Apple TV marks the first time the programmer is launching such a capability. With it, users can swap the primary screen, flip audio, expand to full screen, and choose how many live streams appear on the screen and in what configuration.
Down the road, too, ESPN is thinking of using the other tiles in the MultiCast for content aside from video. For example, those could be playing in-game highlights, fantasy sports updates, alerts, scoreboards or social-media posts.
“So much of what we’ve done on our digital platforms is putting more control into the hands of our fans,” said Spoon, “whether that’s a single stream on a 5-inch phone on your pocket or the ability to merge all your favorites on your 60-inch screen.”
To promote the new app features, the sports programmer is kicking off a “Take ESPN Everywhere” campaign ahead of the Labor Day weekend across TV, radio, digital and social. Running from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4, the spots — aimed at driving app downloads and usage — will feature various ESPN talent.